WHEN Jefferson lines up Aug. 31 against Commerce, it will do so with four new starters in the offensive trenches.
Besides the defensive backfield, no other position on the football field for Jefferson has experienced more overhaul since last season for the Dragons. How well this new-look offensive line responds has been one of the major talking points of the preseason.
“We’ve been progressing steadily,” Jefferson offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ben Hall said. “Hopefully, they’ll continue that pace. I just want to be consistent in our progress.”
The new starters along the offensive front are junior Ethan Hix (quick tackle), junior Eli Griffin (quick guard), junior Jordan Tyler (center) and senior Connor Nation (strong guard).
With a mix of juniors and seniors, this line isn’t young, but there’s still a dearth of starting experience. The lone exception is senior strong tackle Collin Anthony, who enters his third year as a starter.
“He’s been a good leader for them,” Hall said. “I guess you could say he’s an anchor up front.”
Having been the youngster on the offensive line the past two years, Anthony is now the dean of the Dragon linemen.
“We’ve got four new guys that I’ve never even played with, but we work together to become just one up there,” Anthony said. “It not five, it’s more just like one. I just try to do everything I can for them and show them the way and lead them.”
Anthony explains some of the challenges first-year starters may face, having been in that situation two years ago. He said the speed of the game basically “hits you in the face.”
“You come out in practice and you’ll be like ‘I’m a first-year starter, it may not be that bad.’” Anthony said. “When you get out in a game, it’s just the intensity. You get nervous. There’s a lot of things that come at you. It’s all new to you.”
Hall said he worries less about the mental skills of line play with this group and maybe a little more about the physical aspects.
Jefferson’s line is a bit undersized. And for these new starters, it may take some time to master things like proper body position in passing sets or angles for blocking on screens.
“You don’t gain an understanding unless you go against live reps,” Hall said.
That said, this group did well against live reps this past Thursday, passing its first test of the season in Jefferson’s 37-14 win over Morgan County. Each offensive lineman played well enough to have graded out if it were a real game, according to Hall.
“I would say all five would have graded 80 percent,” Hall said.
The Dragon offense racked up over 250 total yards and 37 points before halftime (no score was kept in the second half). The starters sat the entire second half.
“We had some mental errors,” Anthony said of the offensive line. “There are things that we can fix, but overall I feel like that as a new, whole line we did pretty good, that we can pull together and be the best out of the bunch the past four years.”
Anthony added: “Assignments and execution, I feel like we did pretty well.”
So while there’s still a ways to go with this group, assessment of this new offensive line could be best summed up as this: so far, so good.
“I do feel a lot better after Thursday night, so hopefully they’ll continue to improve,” Hall said.